Flash fried red snapper, tail on. A Cuban bun that towers to the sky. Diced onion. Ketchup. This simple, otherwise unimpressive collection of ingredients gave one Cuban family legions of fans, a livelihood, and (sometimes dreaded) fame.
Arsenio, Juan, and Felix Ramon Garcia, who came to Miami in 1966 with waves of Cuban immigrants, opened La Camaronera in Little Havana in 1973. For more than 40 years, the once standing-only fried seafood joint has been a kind of crossroads for Miami. Businessmen show up only to leave and find a grease stain on their smartly starched shirts thanks to an oily, briny squirt out of a piping hot ostione frito. Workers behind the counter toiling in front of bubbling vats of boiling oil are patient with the adventurous gringo ready for a plate of fried fish roe. Little old ladies crush massive fish fillets in the blink of an eye.
Yet La Camaronera is only the beginning of the story. In 1990, three more Garcia brothers opened their namesake restaurant and fish market on the shores of the Miami River.
"Family is first, but our businesses are completely separate," said David Garcia, who today runs La Camaronera with his cousin Maritza. On the first floor sits a fish case similar to the one at La Camaronera, and when you grab a few shrimp of snapper fillets to cook that night, or the following day after a big meal.
Upstairs you get a pristine view of the Miami river, the ever-growing downtown Miami, and fresh caught, no frills seafood. Every meal starts a few crackers and a small ramekin of smoked fish dip. If you ask nicely, they're often happy to give you more.
The Garcia elders were no supporters of La Camaronera's one-time food truck the Fish Box. On it's first day in business, it moved more than $4,000 worth of seafood, easily beating the restaurant.
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